IDF to train officers to reduce civilian casualties

Exclusive: First courses to start in December; posts created due to criticism following Gaza fatalities in Operation Cast Lead.

Soldiers guard prisoners 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Soldiers guard prisoners 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Having endured almost two years of heavy international criticism regarding civilian casualties during the Operation Cast Lead assault on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the IDF is set to hold its first-ever training course for a new military job that will be incorporated into combat brigades and battalions to try to reduce such casualties. The designated purpose of the new post: to help Israel minimize harm to civilians during future operations in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip.
Titled “population coordination officer,” the post will be mostly held by reservists with the rank of captain or major. The first course is to begin early December, and the officers will be trained to help prepare battalion and brigade commanders for operations within urban settings.
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The decision to establish the new post came after Israel encountered stinging protests from international leaders and human rights groups over Gaza civilian fatalities in Cast Lead, notably including the Goldstone Report.
If Israel remains in a combat area for an extended period of time, the officer will coordinate between the combat force and civil administrations – as it does in the West Bank.
The decision to establish the new post was made by the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which will oversee the training course, as well as the IDF Ground Forces Command which needed to institute the organic change to the combat units.
According to defense officials, the officers appointed will not actually interface with the civilian population, which will remain under COGAT’s authority.
COGAT already trains what are called humanitarian liaisons. Rather, the new officers will be trained by COGAT to assist battalion and brigade commanders in planning operations while assessing the effect they will have on the civilian population.
One example: the planning of targets to bomb. The officer will advise the commanders of the impact that destroying civilian infrastructure – such as water reservoirs or main roads – could have on civilians who remain behind in the midst of ongoing conflict.
The hope within the IDF is that, with the assistance of these new officers, commanders will be more sensitive when operating in urban settings. This in turn, it is hoped, will minimize the criticism Israel would face following a future war with, for example, Hizbullah; the latter has stationed its weaponry and command posts inside homes throughout southern Lebanon.
Prior to entering the residential areas, the IDF will do its utmost to warn civilians to evacuate potential combat zones.
During Operation Cast Lead, the IDF dropped millions of flyers over locations it planned to invade, and made over 250,000 phone calls to Gazans’ homes and mobile phones to warn them to leave their residences because conflict was imminent.